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Mid-size SUVs

2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2021 Buick Envision crossover sport utility vehicle could substitute as an antidote to former President Donald Trump’s ill-fated attempt to blame his coronavirus woes on China. 

Trump seldom failed to speak of our more than one-year-old plague — OK, the pandemic — as the “Chinese virus,” as if that nation was solely responsible for the worldwide affliction, absolving him of any responsibility for combating it. 

On the bright side, we have the redesigned 2021 Envision Essence, tested here, a decent near-luxury contender in the compact crossover class. It is, in fact, a fundamentally Chinese vehicle, though you’d be hard-pressed to recognize it. 

A whopping 94% of its parts come from China. A joint Chinese-U.S. General Motors plant in Yantai, China, builds the Envision. Only 1% of its components come from the United States and Canada.

Yet the Envision crossovers sold here in the U.S. look, feel, and drive as if they were Thoroughly Modern American Buicks. It was designed that way from the get-go, introduced at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It joined two other similar offerings from General Motors—the Chevrolet Equinox and the GMC Terrain.

Of course, as a Buick, it took a more luxurious tack than its garage mates. At the same time, it became the first Chinese-built GM vehicle sold in the United States. 

Redesigned for 2021, the Envision is slightly smaller and less potent than its predecessor but also delivers better fuel economy and a lower price. Though touted as a luxury crossover competing with the likes of the BMW X3, Lincoln Corsair, and Audi Q5, its relatively bargain price in that company is the tipoff.

The mid-pack Envision Essence trim level tested here came with a base price of $36,995, including the destination charge. With options, the bottom-line sticker came to $41,315. That’s more upper-middle-class and near-luxury than most of the machines it seeks to conquer. The BMW X3 starts at $43,995, and the Lincoln Corsair sets up at $44,825, and either can creep up to tens of thousands of dollars more.

Most of the Envision Essence’s $4,320 worth of extras came from two options packages: Technology at $2,500 and Sport Touring at $1,325. Basic equipment included automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, following distance indicator, blind-spot warning, Wi-Fi hot spot, active noise cancellation, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking assist.

The options packages added, among others: head-up display, surround vision rear camera, premium Bose audio, Bluetooth streaming, wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play, navigation with 10-inch touch screen, HD radio and SXM satellite radio, 20-inch aluminum wheels, roof rails and “Cinnabar Metallic” exterior paint.

The Envision has about the same passenger space as a midsize car—100 cubic feet — but with 25 cubic feet for cargo, almost twice that of a midsize car’s trunk. Fold the rear seatbacks and enjoy a two-passenger vehicle with 53 cubic feet for cargo. If you absolutely must tow something, make sure it’s not more than 1,500 pounds.

Like many modern cars and crossovers, the Envision uses a four-cylinder engine. Modern four-bangers, especially with turbochargers, have replaced their forerunner V8s and even, in some cases, in-line six-cylinder and V6 engines. Thank computer technology for the enhanced power and fuel economy.

The Envision Essence offers only one power plant: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s slightly less than its predecessor’s 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission transfers the power to either the front wheels or all four wheels. The tested Essence came with front-wheel drive.

But unless you live in an area prone to snowstorms and other nasty weather, you’d likely be entirely happy with the front-driver, which can account for itself reasonably well in all but the most challenging weather. 

On the road, the Envision Essence was a capable though not inspiring performer. It cruises mostly quietly with enough power for passing situations on two-lane roads and the cut and thrust of heavy freeway traffic. Acceleration to 60 miles an hour is in the acceptable seven-second range. However, avoid impromptu stoplight drag races. 

Handling is competent though not sporting. The suspension system can deliver a smooth ride in most circumstances, which detracts some from any sharp handling pretensions. But likely, most drivers will not opt to explore cornering limits.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/25 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,732 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,995.
  • Price as tested: $41,315.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Buick

2021 Ford Edge Titanium AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Now a teenager, the 2021 Ford Edge has lost some of its edgy styling in favor of softer attractive styling, but it retains its everyday comfort and practicality as an easy-driving midsize two-row crossover sport utility vehicle.

Introduced as a 2007 model, the Edge has been a staple of the Ford lineup with sales of well over 100,000 most years. It slots between the smaller Escape and the larger Explorer. Four adults sit comfortably and a fifth less so in the center-rear position. But with a nearly flat floor, that person at least has a place to plant his or her feet. Moreover, unlike some luxury SUVs, the rear seatbacks recline for long-trip relaxation.

Behind the second row is a generous cargo area of 39 cubic feet, enough to haul the luggage and stuff for a small family’s week at the beach. A full-size temporary spare wheel and tire is stashed beneath the floor and the rear seatbacks fold 60/40 for extra cargo if needed.

There’s a broad range of trim levels for different budgets and desires, starting with the front-wheel-drive SE at around $33,000 to the top-line ST at more than $45,000. Tested for this review was the mid-level Titanium with all-wheel drive that started at $42,325 and had a bottom-line sticker of $48,990.

All Edge models come with modern basic safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring. In addition, the tested Edge came with knee air bags up front, evasive steering assist, adaptive cruise control, a reverse sensing system and rain-sensing windshield wipers with de-icing.

Other equipment on the tested Titanium model, some of it optional, included a hands-free motorized rear tailgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, voice-activated navigation, SXM satellite radio, 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless smart phone charging, leather trimmed heated and cooled front seats with power memory driver’s seat, and heated rear seats.

The Edge Titanium infotainment system comes with Ford’s new SYNC 4 interface viewed on a 12-inch center display. It features wireless compatibility with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and apps from smart phones and other mobile devices. 

With that list of equipment, anyone could be forgiven for assuming that the Edge Titanium competes in the near-luxury crossover class. It does, but at a lower price than some of the others.

It shows on the open road, where cruising at freeway speeds and higher is fatigue-free, with few steering corrections needed in straight-line driving. If you’re caught up in stop-and-go traffic, as happens to motorists on the east coast’s Interstate 95 during beach vacation season, it’s another story. 

The cabin is quiet, with little intrusion of mechanical, tire and wind noise. Handling on twisting roads is capable and secure as long as you don’t push the Edge too hard. 

Comfort and ergonomics are first-rate. The seats, done up in perforated leather, are supportive and comfortable, and controls are easy to locate and operate. The shifter is a rotary knob that is as intuitive and easy to use as any shifter currently on the market. There’s an idle stop-start system that, thankfully, can be switched off, eliminating that hesitation if you have to accelerate quickly from a stop.

Except for the top-line ST performance model, the Edge gets its power from a 250-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 275 lb-ft of torque. With that, the tested Titanium model is not the quickest crossover out of the gate. But with a 0-60-mph acceleration time of less than seven seconds, it will do nicely. A few years ago, that was considered fast.

The top-line ST performance version is powered by a 2.7-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers. It makes 335 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, and comes with all-wheel drive standard. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic for all models.

However, unless you’re the sort who simply must have the most powerful — and least economical — model in any lineup, the Titanium version is more than satisfactory. It does everything buyers look for in a two-row crossover.

Competitors include the Honda Passport, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Blazer, Hyundai Santa Fe and Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. The Mazda CX-9 has the same interior space but squeezes in three rows of seats.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Ford Edge Titanium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 250 hp, 275 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 110/39 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,124 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,325.
  • Price as tested: $48,990.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Ford

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The leaders at Volkswagen weren’t kidding when they tacked the “Sport” designation on the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE.

Sure, it likely was dreamed up to boost sales of the company’s new midsize crossover sport utility vehicle. Throughout automotive history, the marketing gurus have worked to manipulate buyers’ brains into automatically applying certain attributes to their vehicles.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10946Think Pontiac GTO, Dodge Hellcat, Ford Mustang Shelby GT, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Si, Buick Grand National, Ford F-150 Raptor, Cadillac’s V models, Mercedes AMG, BMW M, Porsche Turbo and Subaru WRX STI, among others.

Mostly, the appellations denote actual performance. But sometimes they are simply slapped on in the middle of a model run to boost the inevitable lagging sales.

That’s not the case with the Atlas. It started out as a full-size, three row crossover sport utility vehicle that, for some families, could substitute for a minivan, though it is somewhat short on cargo space.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10945Now Volkswagen has expanded the Atlas horizons with the Sport, which has an entirely different character from its three-row sibling and lives up to its “sport” designation.

It’s a midsize crossover SUV with 112 cubic feet of space for passengers in the first and second rows, with a generous cargo space of 40 cubic feet. Fold the seatbacks flat and the cargo area expands to 78 cubic feet, plenty to haul all the stuff for your kid’s freshman year in college.

You’d think that would satisfy a lot of customers. But VW also has infused this bulky crossover with performance bones. Though it is 16 feet 4 inches long, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 4,228 pounds, it validates the old canard about “German feel” with responsive handling and a ride that won’t produce fatigue on a long trip.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10951Belying its size, it attacks twisting roads with some of the aplomb of a sports sedan: capable 4Motion all-wheel drive and communicative steering with good feedback. Of course it’s no match for a Bullitt Mustang or a Mazda MX-5 Miata but it can hold its own with a host of other vehicles.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission. City/highway/combined fuel economy of 18/23/20 mpg is not outstanding but that’s the tradeoff for the performance.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport-Large-10326The engine is turbocharged but you’d be hard-pressed to notice. There’s almost no turbo lag, although there is a hesitation if you use the idle stop-start system, which shuts down the engine at stoplights and then cranks it up when you take your foot off the brake. Fortunately, you can disable the stop-start with the touch of a button, as was the script for this review.

There also are driver selectable settings for different on- and off-road drive modes: Normal and snow, as well as off-road and off-road custom. Hill descent control is included for challenging boondocks courses.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10937There’s no manual-shift mode for the automatic transmission — thus no steering-wheel paddle shifters — but it’s not needed. You can easily select “sport” instead of “drive” with the console mounted shifter and rocket off  with instant snap-shifts in the stoplight drag races simply by keeping your foot to the floor.

On the road, the Atlas Sport is mostly a quiet cruiser with enough engine drone to alert you to the power under the hood. The only time it gets annoying is when you hit the “max” button on the air conditioning. Then the engine and blower sounds become a racket that overpowers even loud audio.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10935The Atlas Sport has a starting price of  $31,565, including the destination charge,18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, full LED lighting, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, and Wi-Fi capability.

The test vehicle was a mid-level SE model with a technology package that included adaptive cruise control, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, wireless smart phone charging, park distance control, power lift gate and SXM satellite radio. Inside, the look leaned toward the austere, with perforated black leather upholstery and attractive gray faux wood trim.

But the price was reasonable, slightly more than  the average of a new car in this era. The base was $38,865, including the destination charge and, with an option of a special Aurora Red metallic paint job,  the bottom line sticker came to $39,495. It’s a decent hunk of a crossover for the money.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10938Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE w/ Technology four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 235 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with 4Motion all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 112/40 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,288 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/23/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,865.
  • Price as tested: $39,495.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10933Photos (c) Volkswagen

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You might come up short with a big family, but the 2019 Mazda CX-9 works smartly for a couple of couples on a cross-state jaunt of hundreds of miles and many hours behind the wheel.

Of course, that’s if you fold down the third-row seat to stash the luggage. If your couples came with a couple of kids to sit in that third row, there wouldn’t be room for but a few suitcases or carry-ons.

MY16 Mazda CX-9Such are the compromises inherent in the tested CX-9 Signature, Mazda’s top-of-the-line three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.

Though it has those three rows of seats for seven-passenger accommodations, it is smaller inside than similar brands. It has 135 cubic feet of space for passengers with just 14 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row — not enough with kids exported back there.

Fold that third row, as that couple of couples did for a trip across Wisconsin to the Green Bay Packers shrine at Lambeau Field, and you realize an ample 38 cubic feet of space for the baggage to carry home Wisconsin-only Spotted Cow beer, and green and gold clothing and artifacts from the Packers Pro Shop.

2016_cx9_016Now that we’ve established that the CX-9 can be useful for hauling half a dozen grade-school kids to soccer practice but would require a top carrier for a family beach outing, fairness demands an assessment of other attributes.

It turns out there are many, starting with the inescapable conclusion that this is what colleagues at the enthusiast magazines like to anoint as a driver’s car. The chassis is stiff, the electric power steering precise and responsive, the independent suspension system compliant, the turbo engine powerful and the six-speed automatic transmission unobtrusive.

About the only gripe heard on the trip came from one of the drivers, a large and muscular male who said the cockpit width at thigh level was uncomfortably narrow for his chunky legs. This reviewer had no problem.

CX9ENGINE-201The power train starts with a touch of a pushbutton to wake up the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is turbocharged to deliver 227 hp and the surge of 310 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that pins the spine against the seatback when you punch the pedal when the light changes.

That’s with Mazda’s recommendation to use regular 87-octane gasoline. If you are the sort who values a bit of extra punch, dump in premium fuel and you’ll get 250 hp, though the torque rating doesn’t change.

Either way, your zero-to-60 mph acceleration time will come up either slightly north or south of seven seconds, according to independent tests. Though there are any number of cars out there that could beat you in a drag race, that’s more than respectable for a crossover that measures 16 feet 7 inches long and weighs 4,383 lbs.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P7_20180719Moreover, the CX-9 manages the sprint effortlessly. The Mazda engineers have used their talents to wipe out any hint of the dreaded turbo lag, that hesitation that causes some turbo-engine cars to hiccup before they belch their power. City/highway/combined fuel economy is respectable at 20/26/23 mpg.

Though front-wheel drive is standard, the tested Signature model came with all-wheel drive, useful for areas with nasty weather. But if you don’t expect to battle snowstorms or visit ski areas you can operate nicely with the front-drive and save some money.

Mazda, the Japanese manufacturer that has given us exciting cars like the MX-5 Miata and the Mazda3 hatchback, has been on a campaign to upgrade its vehicles to premium and perhaps luxury status. It shows on the CX-9 Signature, with features a cut above the ordinary and a bottom-line sticker of $46,660.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P4_20180719Full safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking assist.

Inside, there’s three-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof to put wind in and sun on the hair, aluminum and wood trim, perforated leather upholstery with heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, 12-speaker Bose audio system, an eight-inch touch screen that displays navigation, SXM satellite radio, HD radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming audio, and apps for Pandora, Stitcher and Aha internet radio.

Exterior features, in addition to the attractive sheet metal, include 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, rain-sensing windshield wipers with windshield de-icer, power rear tailgate, heated and powered outside rear-view mirrors, and aluminum roof rails.

2019_-CX-9-16-G-US-LOC-004_R10_20170616Specifications

Model: 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.

Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.

Height: 5 feet 8 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 135/14 cubic feet.

Weight: 4,383 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/23 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $46,360.

Price as tested: $46,660.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019_-CX-9_Exterior_003-1_R5Photos:  Mazda

 

2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So it turns out that metamorphosis is not limited to lizards, insects or Gregor Samsa in the 1915 Franz Kafka novella. The 2019 Chevrolet Blazer stands out as a product of the process.

The Blazer had its gestation in 1969 as the big K5 Blazer, a precursor sport utility vehicle built on a body-on-frame truck chassis. It went through a number of transformations — call it a metamorphosis — over the years in various sizes and configurations until it hibernated a decade ago.

Now it re-appears in full butterfly mode as an all-new crossover SUV that mimics sedan-like unit-body construction, nestled between the compact Chevrolet Equinox and the large three-row Traverse. It is important for the brand because Chevrolet, like perennial adversary Ford, is bailing out of traditional sedans to focus on hot-selling crossovers.

As a competitor to the likes of the Honda Passport, Nissan Murano, Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe, the Blazer adheres to the current formula of a tall, roomy, front-wheel drive station-wagon style vehicle with gobs of space for people and stuff, as well as the option of all-wheel drive for those places with nasty weather days. 

There’s 101 cubic feet of space — about what you’d find in a midsize sedan — for up to five passengers, with a capacious 31 cubic feet for cargo behind the back seat, augmented on the tested Premier model by a movable divider on tracks to segregate different stuff. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 64 cubic feet.

Front seats and outboard back seats are mostly flat, okay comfortable but with little bolstering to hold the torso in cornering. The floor in back is nearly flat so you’d think that the designers could fashion a center-rear seat with minimal comfort. But no. As is usual these days, it’s a high, hard, uncomfortable cushion.

The Blazer comes in six trim levels with four-cylinder or V6 power and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The base L model with front-drive and nine-speed automatic transmission has a starting price of $29,995, including the destination charge. It is powered by a 193-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 188 lb-ft of torque and a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 22/27/24 mpg.

Only two models — the L and the $33,495 front-drive 1LT — come with the four-cylinder engine. The others are 2LT at $34,495; 3LT at $38,695; RS at $41,795, and Premium at $43,895. All have V6 engines and front- or all-wheel drive. The latter costs an additional $2,700 or $2,900, depending on the version.

The Premier tested for this review was the top of the line with all-wheel drive and a full load of equipment that required no options. Its starting price, $46,795, is the same as its delivered price.

Power is delivered by a 308-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine that delivers 270 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the Blazer to 60 mph in less than seven seconds. The juice gets to the front or all four wheels through the easy-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. It has a manual-shift mode but likely won’t get used much because it’s controlled by a button on the shift lever.

The interior has a quality look and feel with soft-touch surfaces all around. Some of the design touches are obtuse but clever. For example, you can’t find a button or switch to change the temperature for the automatic climate control. A search reveals that twisting the ring around the circular center air outlets changes the temp setting.

There’s a big, deep console between the front seats with plenty of storage space. On many vehicles, that’s where you have to search with your smart phone flashlight to find a USB port. But on the Blazer, there are a couple of ports right in plain sight on the center stack. Nice.

The center screen is intuitive and easy to read. It controls the Bose premium audio system, SXM satellite radio, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.

On the road, the Blazer is competent, quiet and comfortable with responsive handling to negotiate clogged freeway minuets, and full safety equipment like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to rescue even an inattentive driver. 

The tested Blazer Premier also came with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning and a stop-start system to enhance fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 18/25/21 mpg in city/highway/combined motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:3.6-liter V6; 308 hp, 270 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission:Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height:5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume:102/31 cubic feet. (64)
  • Weight:4,246 pounds.
  • Towing capability:4,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge:$46,795.
  • Price as tested:$46,795.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Playing hardball with its exceptional 2019 Santa Fe, Hyundai is on the verge of realizing its full competitive lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles.

It’s an important milestone, given the phenomenon of crossover sales that lately have been overpowering traditional sedans and coupes. In the 2017 model year, the South Korean company offered just two nameplates: the compact Tucson and the Santa Fe, a midsize offered with either two or three rows of seats. An earlier Veracruz model had been dropped in 2011.

Large-34014-2019SantaFeEarly in 2018, the brash new Kona arrived as smaller sibling of the Tucson. Now comes the two-row, midsize Santa Fe, formerly called the Santa Fe Sport, which will be followed by an all-new, as yet unnamed, large three-row, eight-passenger crossover. That will complete the lineup unless Hyundai decides to squeeze in another something someplace.

The existing three-row Santa Fe continues unchanged for about a year, after which it will be consigned to that great crossover retirement community in the sky. It will be sold as the Santa Fe XL until its replacement arrives.

The Santa Fe comes in five trim levels — SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited and Ultimate — with a starting price of $26,485, including the destination charge. All come with front-wheel drive standard. Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive costs an additional $1,700.

As some other manufacturers have done, the Santa Fe eschews stand-alone options in favor of escalating lists of features for each trim level. The tested top-of-the-line Ultimate, at $39,905, had only one minor option of $125 for carpeted floor maps.

Large-34019-2019SantaFeThere are two powertrains: 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 178 lb-ft of torque on the S, SEL and SEL Plus trims, and a 235-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 260 lb-ft of torque on the Limited and Ultimate models. All versions come with eight-speed automatic transmissions and idle stop-start.

Most notable from a peace of mind standpoint are two safety innovations. Rear Occupant Alert monitors the back seats with an ultrasonic sensor that detects movement of children or pets. As with some other vehicles, the system alerts drivers to check the rear seats after stopping and before exiting.

But the Santa Fe takes it to another important level. If for some reason a distracted driver forgets or ignores the warning, leaves the vehicle and locks the doors, the system honks the horn and sends an alert to the driver’s smart phone via Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system. The innovation could prevent some of the 37 deaths that occur annually in the U.S., on average, of children left in hot cars.

Large-34023-2019SantaFeThe other system mimics blind-spot warning. If a rear-seat passenger tries to open a door and an oncoming car is detected, both visual and audio warnings are triggered. Also, it will prevent the driver from deactivating the electronic child safety lock until the oncoming car has passed.

Besides those safety features, the Santa Fe also comes with Hyundai Safety Sense, which includes forward collision avoidance, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot and lane-departure warning.

On the road, the tested all-wheel drive Santa Fe Ultimate delivered strong acceleration, a resilient ride and responsive handling. Tactile steering feedback felt more like a capable sedan than a tall crossover. Partly responsible was the all-wheel drive torque vectoring that apportioned the power to the rear wheels depending on road conditions, abetted by relocation of the rear shock absorbers.

Large-34029-2019SantaFeThere are three drive modes that adjust steering feel, ride motions and transmission shift points. Normal is the main setting for daily driving. Smart enhances fuel economy and Sport tightens everything up for improved performance, especially in challenging conditions like twisting mountain roads.

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifted unobtrusively and can be manually shifted. However, shifting must be done with the console-mounted lever; there are no steering-wheel mounted paddles.

On smooth roads, the Santa Fe Ultimate was almost eerily quiet with only vague road and mechanical noises. There was no detectable wind noise. Comfort was first-cabin with the headliner and pillars upholstered in a soft cloth that would do justice to a living-room divan.

Contributing to the comfort were “variable density” front seats with power extensions to provide extra thigh support, as well as acoustic glass and a rigid body structure that makes extensive use of high-strength steel and strong structural adhesives.

Summing up, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate competes handily and almost lazily against other midsize crossover contenders.

Large-34046-2019SantaFeSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 235 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 111/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,960 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,780.
  • Price as tested: $39,905.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Large-34008-2019SantaFePhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sometimes, as with the 2019 Kia Sorento SXL, it’s good to resist too much change. It remains essentially as it was in 2016: a midsize crossover sport utility vehicle that is handsome, quiet, safe, comfortable and competent.

The few additions and modifications, though they make all versions more expensive than their predecessors, mostly enhance the South Korean’s appeal. A third row of seats now is standard across the lineup and the tested SXL with all-wheel drive comes with driver alertness monitoring, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic collision warning.

2019 Sorento

Overall, the top-of-the-line SXL comes equipped as well as some luxury cars and crossovers. Features included a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control, premium Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, power driver’s seat with memory, Harman Kardon surround-sound audio, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, SXM satellite radio, 19-inch polished alloy wheels and a surround-view rear camera.

A large panoramic sunroof opens wide at the front and features one-touch controls for the motorized section and the opaque sun shade.

The tested SXL AWD had a starting sticker price of $47,480. With a few options, it topped out at $48,020, right up there with competitors that include the somewhat larger Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas, Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Traverse.

2019 Sorento

Like the Mazda CX-9 and the downsized GMC Acadia, the Sorento is a bit of a tight fit for a three-row crossover. Its third-row seat can accommodate, with their knees at belly-button level, a couple of average-sized adults as long as the second-row passengers move their seats forward to provide knee room. Crawling back there takes athletic ability more common to teen agers than empty nesters.

The plush front seats are supportive and comfortable with modest bolstering. Outboard back seats are nearly as cozy. However, though there’s enough head and knee room for the center-rear passenger, the poor soul must perch on a hard cushion.

Mechanically, the new Sorento carries over two engines but drops the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the lineup. Lower trim levels are powered by a 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. The tested SXL AWD came with the carryover 292-hp, 3.3-liter V6 engine that develops 252 lb-ft of torque.

2019 Sorento

There are six trim levels, starting with the $26,980 front-drive L version. It and the LX use the 2.4-liter engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. Upper trim levels — LX V6, EX, SX and the tested SXL — are powered by the 3.3-liter V6 and an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with the shift lever, though there are no paddles on the steering wheel.

The base L  model comes only with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional at $1,800 on all of the other models. But the Sorento obviously is not intended for serious off-road adventures; the all-wheel drive delivers increased driver confidence in snow and other foul weather conditions.

The tested Sorento had four driving modes that adjust transmission shift points and other vehicle parameters: Comfort, Eco, Smart and Sport. They can be selected manually or will automatically adjust to the driver’s style and habits.

2019 Sorento

In any drive mode, the Sorento is as silent runner as can be found in its class. Plenty of insulation and acoustic glass in the windshield and front windows contribute to a hushed environment. Muted sounds make their way into the cabin, but they mostly come from the pockmarked urban streets that have become the default U.S. standard. Road noise, as well as mechanical and wind sounds, are practically nonexistent on smooth asphalt.

The Sorento’s V6 engine and eight-speed transmission deliver plenty of power for freeway merging, two-lane highway passing and fatigue-free all-day Interstate cruising. Handling is secure on curves without excess body lean and few steering corrections are needed in straight-line driving. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 19/24/21 miles per each gallon of regular-grade gasoline.

2019 Sorento

American made in West Point, GA, the Sorento sports handsome crossover styling with Kia’s trademark “tiger nose” grille. The company’s design chief, Peter Schreyer, who formerly worked for BMW and Audi, has said he believes it has the same staying  power as BMW’s dual-kidney grille design.

On the sales charts, the Sorento has been the best-selling Kia crossover SUV. In 2017, sales totaled 99,684 and in 2018 it has been on a pace to escalate into six figures.

2019 Sorento

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.3-liter V6, 290 hp, 252 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 143/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,622 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,480.
  • Price as tested: $48,020.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Sorento

Photos (c) Kia

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